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C. Macauley "cmacauley" RSS Feed (Washington, DC)

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Ransom
Ransom
by Jay McInerney
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.22
229 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Not McInerney's Usual Stuff, October 1, 2011
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This review is from: Ransom (Paperback)
I first read this book when I was in Japan in 1989 and marveled then at Mcinerney's use of language and his deft delineation of character. Over the years the book stayed with me, not least because of its peculiarly painful plot twists and its unique setting.

Twenty-two years later the book has lost some of its charm and McInerney's use of language is less innovative, but the story of a heartbroken young American seeking redemption through self-discipline in a Japanese karate dojo in Kyoto in 1984 is still compelling. Ransom has had a traumatic experience in Pakistan and is full of loathing for his father's selfish TV business and the materialism of America. He is determined to become a karate master and has made enough progress in two years to impress his teachers and his colleagues. Suddenly things change with the appearance of Marilyn, a Vietnamese refugee who needs his help to avoid being sold into prostitution, and DeVito, a deranged ex-marine who wants Ransom to fight him.

This book deviates in many ways from McInerney's usual themes: wealthy yuppies mesmerized by sex and drugs, their lives centered around viciously attacking each other. The description of Ransom's karate classes and the city of Kyoto are so vivid that the author must have based these on personal experience.

The book was not a success (not even enough to get a Wikipedia entry) and most of my friends didn't care for it, but I wish that McInerney had written more in this style.


Harry Potter Wizard Chess Set
Harry Potter Wizard Chess Set

48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars New Material is Much More Durable, June 13, 2011
= Durability:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:4.0 out of 5 stars 
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Mattel evidently listened to customer complaints and is now making the pieces out of a softer, rubberized plastic. Arms and other appendages bend, don't break. Reproduction of the figures in the film is fairly accurate, although the board is a bit too small for these pieces, making it hard to move without knocking them over.

The great thing about this is that it increased my son's enthusiasm for learning how to play chess. The game instructions are brief but clearly written for those who don't know the rules. Not a bad investment for the price.


Shelter Me
Shelter Me
by Alex McAulay
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.09
98 used & new from $0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, June 5, 2011
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This review is from: Shelter Me (Paperback)
This book came highly recommended, but I was disappointed. Maggie Leigh barely survives a blitz bombing of London, only to have her mother send her off to a lonely Welsh village where she finds that she is to attend a religious boarding school that turns out to be little more than a prison. After an encounter with a fugitive German soldier, she escapes with two friends, picking up a baby and a fleeing rich girl along the way. They hitchhike and jump onto a rolling train, witnessing horrifying events along the way, eventually ending up prisoners again until Maggie is miraculously rescued.

Although the story itself is full of surprising twists and turns, every character except Maggie herself (the protagonist) and one other person turn out to be fervently evil. Maggie manages through luck, perseverance and courage to escape from one dire situation only to land in another, but her deliverance from her darkest, most horrifying dilemma is through a deus ex machina--quite a letdown.

McAulay's prose is bland and occasionally awkward--although the story is set in wartime Britain, a number of anachronistic Americanisms creep in--but he is good at describing a scene and at letting us feel Maggie's feelings, and many of the characters are sharply drawn. There is a fair amount of suspense and the plot does take a few unexpected turns. Most of the book takes place during one long night, adding to the macabre nature of Maggie's adventures.

One should never judge a book by its cover, but the cover art on the paperback edition is quite intriguing.


I Must be a Part of this War: A German American's Fight against Hitler and Nazism (World War II: the Global, Human and Ethical Dimension)
I Must be a Part of this War: A German American's Fight against Hitler and Nazism (World War II: the Global, Human and Ethical Dimension)
by Patricia Kollander
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $29.51
32 used & new from $9.10

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A German Fights to Free Germany, May 24, 2011
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This book is a wonderful history of a German-American who fought in WWII: Kurt Franz Korf, a young attorney from Dusseldorf, fled persecution in Germany in 1937 (his grandmother was Jewish), went to the US and eventually enlisted in the US Army. Because of his fluency in German he was recruited for Military Intelligence and was assigned to the 97th Infantry Division during the last months of the war. His job was to gather and analyze intelligence and to capture and interrogate German soldiers and spies. He later used his legal background to aid in the prosecution of German war criminals at Nuremburg.

Based on extensive interviews with Korf and on mountains of documents that Korf had collected over the years, plus meticulous research by the authors, this is a personal story embedded in a richly portrayed historical context. Kollander and O'Sullivan are interested in what it takes for a man to go to war against his own country, and what conflicts this creates, but Korf is clear on his moral choices and, as a highly-educated German (he had earned a doctorate in law before leaving Germany) he understood very well what he was doing.

The story is fascinating, well-written and informative, so that soon you are invested in Korf's thoughts and feelings, his motives and his drive to fight for German freedom and peace. He is, nonetheless, thoroughly American and proud to call the US his home. Altogether this is a surprising psychological profile wrapped in an account of one of history's fiercest struggles, and it serves as a superb source on the war and its aftermath.

My father served in the 97th CIC Detachment under Lt. Korf and so I was interested in this book from a personal point of view.


Safer Brand 5452 3-in-1 32-Ounce Ready-to-Use Garden Spray
Safer Brand 5452 3-in-1 32-Ounce Ready-to-Use Garden Spray
Offered by Lake View
Price: $10.16
30 used & new from $5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Works Wonders, May 22, 2011
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Wow! I gave this product to my wife to use on our insect-infested garden and she was delighted. Noticed a big difference after only a single application. She noted, however, that you have to read the instructions carefully (need a magnifying glass for this) because there are several special precautions, such as strawberries. After using this spray on selected plants for three weeks she continues to be happy with it and leaf damage has stopped completely. This is a product we will definitely buy again.


Jamba Juice Energy Drink, Crisp Apple, 8.4-Ounce Cans (Pack of 12)
Jamba Juice Energy Drink, Crisp Apple, 8.4-Ounce Cans (Pack of 12)

3.0 out of 5 stars OK but not great, May 22, 2011
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
My first energy drink...Tastes very much like a tart green apple but with a metallic hint. I noticed that the drink was clear at first with a brownish sediment at the bottom, not particularly attractive although I suppose it's natural. My seven-year-old son thought it was "nasty" and my wife hated it. I didn't notice any energy boost.


Brinquedos Cantados
Brinquedos Cantados
Offered by cdgiveaways
Price: $24.89
2 used & new from $20.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Children's Classic Songs from Brazil, lovingly rendered, May 1, 2011
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This review is from: Brinquedos Cantados (Audio CD)
I was entranced by this album the first time I heard it at a music class for toddlers many years ago, and finally decided to buy it. It was no disappointment--far from the usual clunky, bombastic tunes on most children's song collections, these pieces are lovingly performed with true professional skill and infinite art. Nearly all of them are long-time favorites in Brazil, re-arranged and sung with Bia Bedran's own clever innovations: sound effects, changes in tempo, and instrumental flourishes. Bedran's own vocal range is astonishing: she goes from a robust alto to a deliciously high soprano, her voice texture modulating to portray the creepy graveyard antics of "Tumba Lacatumba," (As Caveiras) or the tiny gestures of an ant in "Formiguinha da roca." Her orchestral backup is skillful and clearly having fun, imitating traditional Brazilian brass and guitar riffs along with hints of rock, jazz and church elegies. Most of the tunes will fix themselves firmly in your head--as they did in mine for 6 years--and the urge to dance or sing along is often irresistible. But what really makes this album stand out is that these songs are sung with true love, a mother's deep love for all children everywhere. An unforgettable masterpiece.


Themes françois & anglois. Or, French and English exercises. By Lewis Chambaud. A new edition.
Themes françois & anglois. Or, French and English exercises. By Lewis Chambaud. A new edition.
by Lewis Chambaud
Edition: Paperback
Price: $24.86
10 used & new from $16.13

3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book, poor quality reproduction, April 21, 2011
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I purchased this facsimile after reading an intriguing description of it in The Paris Review (Spring, 1990). The book itself is one of Chambaud's many grammar texts, composed of phrases and essays rendered in both English and French in side-by-side translation, with grammatical rules. It is interesting to see how the languages have changed since 1776 in terms of spelling and grammar, but what really strikes the reader is the sudden, startling glimpses of 18th-century life revealed in Chambaud's examples related to dueling, piracy, London's smoky, crowded streets, sprawling country estates, gilded snuffboxes, highwaymen, courtiers, and German flutes. It would appear that Chambaud has inserted himself into his grammar, his sorrows in the subjunctive, his aspirations among the indirect objects. Reading carefully one discovers the colorful, brilliant and eccentric character of the author, a mathematician and expert swordsman living in self-imposed exile in London and longing for his French home. The book is full of tragedy, humor, philosophy and wit, much more so than any other text on French and English grammar published in the past 235 years.

Sadly, the quality of the text is poor and in many places nearly illegible. The publishers' preface indicates that the edition was printed from a microfilm copy of the book made some time ago, and so we don't know if in fact the poor reproduction is due to 1) a bad microfilm copy; b) a careless reproduction of the microfilm; or c) a poorly-printed 18th-century edition that has suffered the effects of time. Adding to the hard-to-read print is the fact that a number of the pages are out of order.

Nonetheless, I am pleased to be able to purchase a copy of a rare 18th-century book from the Harvard University Library at a reasonable cost. That Gale has chosen to make all of Chambaud's books available to the general public is indeed praiseworthy.


Isle of Lewis Celtic Chess Set (board & pieces)
Isle of Lewis Celtic Chess Set (board & pieces)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful reproductions of this famous chess set, March 30, 2011
= Durability:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:5.0 out of 5 stars 
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I have to thank the previous reviewer who noted that these pieces are quite large--the king is indeed almost 4 inches tall. Therefore, I made sure to purchase an extra large chess board.

The set is truly lovely, and a superb conversation piece if you know the peculiar history behind the 950-year-old pieces on which this set is modeled (included on a page inserted into the box). Made of bonded stone, each piece has a fine solid feeling in the hand. The quality of reproduction is good although not exact; a few details have been altered and the color does not mimic the creamy color of the original walrus ivory. Nonetheless, I think the very best representatives of the British Museum's collection were chosen for this set and it certainly adds a fine pleasure to a game of chess.

These somewhat fragile pieces are carefully packed to ship safely. Board is not included.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 14, 2011 1:43 AM PDT


The Lewis Chessmen (Objects in Focus)
The Lewis Chessmen (Objects in Focus)
by James Robinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.25
40 used & new from $0.78

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Medieval World Portrayed in a Chess Set, March 24, 2011
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This slim volume describes the mysterious and strangely beautiful chessmen of Lewis Island, found near Uig, Scotland in April 1831. Carved from walrus ivory (a few are also made from whale teeth) the 78 chess pieces were most likely made in Trondheim, Norway between 1150 and 1200 AD. Although chess sets of this type were probably common at the time, this is the most complete collection to have survived. The pieces are marvelously detailed and evocative sculptures of a bygone age, full of personality and symbolism. Robinson does a fine job of telling the various stories of how the pieces were found, ending the book with his own theory about how they ended up buried on a beach in Scotland. The book also gives a brief history of the game of chess and its dispersal throughout Europe--it was long considered to be a frivolous and even sinful activity, and only gradually gained repute as an intellectual pursuit. This book focuses primarily on the 67 chess men owned by the British Museum, with a few references to the 11 pieces at the National Museum of Scotland (the pieces passed through the hands of several collectors during the 19th century and were split up).

The pieces offer clues to the evolution of European society during this era of transition from the Dark Ages--the original Indian game of chaturang featured only chariots (rukhs), knights, pawns, elephants and a king. By the time the game reached Europe in the 9th century, a queen had been added, the rukhs had become warders (knights on foot), and the elephants turned into bishops--even though the church disapproved of chess-playing. New rules allowed some pieces to move several squares at a time in order to make the game faster and more interesting. Eventually the warders became castles.

Robinson ends the book by discussing the trade in walrus-ivory carvings, an important export from Scandinavia. Chess itself was one of the few pastimes available to a largely nonliterate population facing long, dull winters without television or iPods. The Norwegians capitalized on the market, but of the thousands of chess sets manufactured, only these pieces survive. Oddly, of the 78 pieces found near Uig, only one complete set can be put together, although pieces from 8 sets are included.

What stands out, through the photos and Robinson's careful analysis, is the importance of these chess pieces as historic artifacts and works of medieval art. Through this book I gained a new appreciation for the game of chess and its role in history.


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